Tuesday, July 26, 2011



the Devil’s Advocate’ fails to emerge as a convincing supernatural thriller with its contention to remain a meek psychological drama that ‘could have been better’. Despite incredible direction on the part of Taylor Hackford that makes it a fairly-engaging watch, it disappoints by failing to capitalize upon a premise that spells hostility. The Big City is ‘Hell’ in an almost Schopenhauer kind of pessimism, where the law is a playground for the Devil, his son and daughter. He’s fittingly named ‘John Milton’ (read ‘Paradise Lost’) after the poet, and is even more fittingly cast into a hardcore performance by Al Pacino who merely exploits his stereotype on wickedness. Michael Corleone could have been scarier, but Milton takes a pass at the mystery of silence. He talks too much - the typical 'bad guy' who monologues enough to buy time for the Hero.

Beneath the mysticism, the film is about a straight-edge Lawyer named Kevin Lomax (Keanu Reeves) who takes a twist letting himself into the hands of John Milton (Pacino), head of a big law-firm. It’s a battle of success versus honesty; of truth against lies. Every writer is quick to make truthfulness synonymous to defeat and success almost entirely hinging upon infidelity and vice, and a shirk of family, of value, of integrity. There's even a not-so-subtle hint at incest! Now, I do not brand the viewpoint wrong as much as I brand it usual, except that our metaphors are more literal. Our Devil lives on surface here and there’s nothing worse than to join hands with him is what is suggested, for he is someone who’d defy every single of ‘the Ten Commandments’ in a Catholic Universe. Of course, when we speak of the Devil, we mean the Anti-Christ. There's not much to rationalize beyond religion. It's like a biblical episode with emphasis on the adversary.

On the one hand, there’s a clean-sheet record of zero cases lost. On the other, there’s wife, possible child (or absence of it), mother and everything ethical. And ‘the Devil’s Advocate’ is not as much about the choice as much as it’s about atonement. It shows the side-effects in a prerogative sort of foresight which could stop one from taking the pill in the first place. In short, it gives the man a second chance with full insurance. I sighed.

The motifs are externalized. Mary Ann encounters a string of vividly horrifying sequences in her house and beyond; there’s a metaphor on changing appearances and hairdo. We have a gigantic flatscreen behind Milton’s desk that represents plot development in all its turbulence until it finally takes its shape. The truth serves to be ugly; heinous. The film could have been too, especially in those moments where it enjoys its cruelty and rejoices in it. But then it takes a childish turn of repentance and begs to be forgiven for blasphemy? We’re witnessing a crash of the ‘American Dream’, a fall without grace. The performances are inimitable – everyone does their part well. Charlize Theron as the agonized wife in Mary Ann is brilliant. Also resounding is Judith Ivey as the strictly-Catholic Alice Lomax, Kevin’s mother. There’s nothing under par about the film’s production as much as its concept. Keanu Reeves isn’t too bad either, with Al Pacino taking the whole lot of the film’s one-liners almost entirely written for the Devil to speak, for he’s the one that’s full of verse and never yet sweet.

Unfortunately, neither writer(s) nor director are as severe as Milton or Pacino, although they share his class. And ‘the Devil’s Advocate’, as a result, is a less-than-convincing Opera on screen that’s just about performances and art direction. It has the Devil’s eagerness in paternal stead, in an overall attempt to not get you converted; it charges hard and fast for a head-on clash, line after line in a last-breath effort only to hasten into retreat. It's silly.

(I should add, though, that I loved the last-minute jab at the Devil's next exploit with reference to fields of 'vanity', and victory attributed to compromise. Tongue-in-cheek!)

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